Master of Counseling Degree Guide

Counselors often rely on personal experience to bring understanding and compassion to their work, seeking to inspire trust and confidence in their clients while adhering to ethical standards and maintaining confidentiality with regards to sensitive issues. However, to provide professional counseling guidance and support to groups and individuals experiencing social, personal, and psychological troubles, many individuals pursue a Master of Counseling. 

With a degree in counseling, a graduate can pursue a wide range of professions, such as vocational and career counselor, rehabilitation and mental health counselor, or marriage and family counselor. 

What is a Master of Counseling?

A Master of Counseling prepares students for careers helping those who require guidance. In some instances, a master’s degree can also prepare students for professional licensure. The coursework is geared towards psychology and education, and instruction includes:

  • Health
  • Ethics
  • Mental health
  • Growth and development

People who have advanced interpersonal skills, empathy, a strong ethical compass, and a desire to help people improve their emotional and mental health may be a perfect fit for a Master’s Degree in Counseling. 

What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Counseling?

With a degree in counseling, you can pursue a career in roles including:

  • Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors
  • Marriage and Family therapist
  • School and career counselor
  • Rehabilitation counselor

For any of these careers, an ideal candidate should possess an understanding of common foundational skills along with an additional focus in a specialized area. Below is a list of potential jobs that someone studying Master of Counseling could pursue.

CareerSalaryProjected Job Growth (2019-2029)Description
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors$47,66025% (Much faster than average)Clinical mental health counselors provide assistance to individuals and families suffering from mental, emotional, and psychological disorders and issues. They provide treatment and support and provide career advice during life changes.
Marriage and Family Therapist$51,34022% (Much faster than average)Family therapists use a variety of techniques and tools to help their clients. Many apply cognitive behavioral therapy which helps clients understand harmful thoughts, feelings, and beliefs and teaches how to replace them with positive, life-enhancing ones.
Career Counselor$58,1208% (Much faster than average)School counselors help students develop the academic and social skills that lead to success in school, help them explore career options or choose an educational program that will lead to a career.
Rehabilitation Counselor$37,53010% (Much faster than average)Rehabilitation counselors help people with physical, mental, developmental, or emotional disabilities live independently. They work with students, to develop strategies to live with their disability and transition from school to work, as well as help veterans cope with the mental or physical effects of their military service.
Source: BLS

Earning a Master’s Degree in Counseling

Students should consider a variety of factors when deciding on a college including:

  • Program specializations
  • Admission requirements
  • Specific areas of focus (specialization vs elective courses)

Additionally, when deciding on a master’s program it is important to look at course offerings, program length, and skill development.

Courses in Counseling Graduate Programs

Since course offerings vary by school, students should review each institution’s curriculum to find the counseling degree that best suits their needs. However, certain foundational topics are common across most programs. 

While the names of these courses may differ, many degrees feature courses in the following topics:

Fundamental CoursesDescriptions
Abnormal PsychologyAbnormal psychology courses provide students insight into how to effectively assist children and adolescents who struggle with mental health issues. Courses may also explore environmental elements that could impact children’s mental state.
Multicultural CounselingMulticultural counseling courses help counselors-in-training to work with children from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. A multicultural counseling course may cover topics such as cultural awareness.
Management of School Counseling ProgramsManagement of school counseling programs courses explore the many responsibilities that counselors must know in order to manage time and resources effectively. These courses may explore topics including needs assessment and program development.
Professional PracticeProfessional practice courses explore different topics in school counseling that align with different career goals. These courses typically require at least one practicum element.
Group CounselingGroup counseling courses teach students how to help small groups of children who share one or more similar problems. During these courses, students analyze psychoeducational and psychotherapy topics.

How Long Does a Master of Counseling Take To Finish?

Typically, Master’s Degrees in Counseling take 2-3 years to complete for full-time learners. However, program details may alter this time frame. For instance, many counseling programs have a practicum requirement that students must finish in order to graduate, and this can increase the time it takes to graduate.

Most counseling master’s programs require 45-60 credits, so students need to complete 18-20 credits per year to finish the degree in three years. These credits are typically divided into fall and spring semesters only, though some programs encourage students to take summer courses so that they can focus an entire semester on practicum work. 

Students can also enroll part-time, taking smaller course loads but finishing in more than three years.

Skills Learned in a Master of Counseling Program

Pursuing a Master’s Degree in Counseling requires patience, empathy, and a significant amount of energy. Additionally, counseling programs build skills in:

  • Mental health
  • Communication
  • Behavior
  • De-escalation techniques
  • Legal and ethical issues

By earning a master’s degree in counseling, graduates gain a competitive edge for careers in the field.

Choosing the Best Master’s Degree in Counseling Program

When choosing a counseling master’s program, students need to consider a variety of factors including:

  • Online vs. on campus programs
  • Program costs
  • Program length
  • Accreditation
  • Admission requirements

A Master of Counseling takes about three years to complete, but certain factors can alter that time frame. A program with a higher credit requirement, for instance, may take longer to finish. 

This section explores the many factors that students should consider when choosing a master’s program. 

Online vs. On Campus Counseling Degrees

Many counseling students have the option to choose between an online or on-campus degree. Online degree programs offer flexible schedules and allow working professionals to maintain their current employment while pursuing the degree. 

On-campus programs, on the other hand, could help you form connections with the local and national counseling organizations. Furthermore, learning on-campus can lead to networking opportunities through practicums and internships, as well as symposia and other events.

Accreditation

Accreditation indicates that a higher education institution meets the educational and professional standards of a national or regional organization. Students can trust that accredited institutions’ academics feature rigorous, relevant courses and acceptable learning outcomes. 

Additionally, counseling job requirements vary and many agencies require counselors to attend a regionally accredited school. These agencies receive a charter from the Department of Education to evaluate schools’ academic quality.

Programmatic accreditation assesses certain programs and departments within a school. For instance, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) grants programmatic accreditation to only the best online Master of School Counseling programs.

Master of Counseling Admission Requirements

When applying to counseling master’s programs, you should thoroughly review the prerequisites and admission requirements. Admission requirements typically vary by institution and program.  

Prerequisites & Admission Material

Many of the best Master of Counseling programs use prerequisites to select applicants who have the best chance of making a positive impact in the counseling field. Generally, anyone applying to an online counseling master’s program must hold a bachelor’s degree in education, psychology, or a related field. 

Other common prerequisites and admission materials for counseling programs include: 

PrerequisitesDescription
Bachelor’s DegreeA majority of colleges and universities require either a bachelor’s degree or ask for prior coursework in areas such as counseling and psychology.
Minimum GPAEven if a program does not use a GPA cutoff, the most competitive applicants possess at least a 3.5 undergraduate GPA. Prospective students who do not meet the minimum GPA requirement can contact schools to explore their options.
Application Requirements
ApplicationCertain schools require written components such as statements of purpose, personal essays, and letters of recommendation. The application process can be long, so it is recommended that applicants prepare for the process to take weeks.
TranscriptsTranscripts provide records of academic progress. Students should contact every school they have attended and request to send transcripts to their new schools. Typically, a small fee is charged for each transcript.
Letters of RecommendationLetters of recommendation may come from professors, employers, or community leaders. Candidates should give their references at least two weeks to write the letters.
Test ScoresSome graduate programs may require students to take the GRE. 
Application FeeGraduate school application fees vary by program but typically cost around $50. However, some schools charge substantially more. Applicants should check with each school to see about available application fee waivers.

Paying for a Counseling Degree

The cost of a counseling degree varies based on numerous factors. For example, if you plan on attending a public school then state residency is an important consideration. Many colleges and universities charge out-of-state students up to 400% more in tuition than what in-state residents pay. 

Another factor that impacts tuition rates is whether the program is online or in person. Online students avoid commuting costs or other costs associated with living on campus, but may be charged a higher tuition rate. In some instances, schools extend in-state tuition rates to all online students regardless of residency.

Applying to available financial aid, scholarships, and grants can significantly alleviate some of the financial burden that comes with a master’s program.

How Much Does a Master’s Degree in Counseling Cost?

Tuition rates differ among colleges and universities, and certain factors may impact the cost of a counseling degree. For instance, private universities usually charge higher tuition rates than public colleges because private institutions depend more heavily on tuition money and private donors. 

Along with tuition, counseling students may have to pay program fees. Possible costs include: 

  • Technology fees
  • Student services fees
  • Practicum fees
  • Health fees
  • Housing fees

Students must also consider textbook costs and commuting expenses like gasoline and parking permits.

Scholarships for Master of Counseling Students

Counseling scholarships are competitive but abundant in comparison to other program scholarships. There are often specific counseling scholarships for groups like women, minorities, and disabled individuals. 

Some examples of scholarships available to individuals pursuing a Master’s Degree in Counseling include:

Master of Counseling Career Resources

One of the best ways for counseling graduate students to stay abreast of changes and advances in the counseling profession is through active engagement in professional counseling organizations. 

Membership in professional organizations helps ensure that counselors have regular exposure to the latest research and clinical innovation along with regular opportunities to share their own successes and challenges with professional colleagues. Professional organizations often serve as the voice of the counseling profession on regulatory and legislative issues, and they have had a major role in shaping the profession into what it has become today.

Below are five relevant organizations that counseling graduates students should explore and get connected with.

OrganizationsDescriptions
American Counseling Association (ACA)ACA is a non-profit professional and educational organization dedicated to the growth and enhancement of the counseling profession. As the world’s largest association exclusively representing professional counselors in various practice settings, membership provides individuals with such benefits as free continuing education credits, updates on legislation affecting counseling, and access to current research and practice innovation through training programs, scholarly and practice publications, as well as an annual national conference.
National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)NBCC is dedicated to maintaining a register of counselors. The NBCC’s certification program recognizes counselors who have met predetermined standards in their training, experience and performance on the National Counselor Examination (NCE). Students who attend CACREP-accredited programs are eligible to take the NCE and/or the National Clinical Mental Health Counselors Examination (NCMHCE) in their final semester and, if they pass, will become a National Certified Counselor (NCC) upon graduation.
American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA)AMHCA is the only professional organization dedicated solely to the work of clinical mental health counselors. It provides support services for clinical mental health counselors in the forms of advocacy, research, standards for ethical practice and continuing education. 
Chi Sigma IotaChi Sigma Iota is a counseling honorary society that is open to counseling students who have maintained a 3.5 average or better in their graduate program. The organization promotes scholarship, research, and advocacy in professional counseling. 
National Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC)NAADAC is dedicated to supporting the work of addiction counselors, educators and other addiction-focused healthcare professionals who specialize in addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery support. It provides support for research, training, legislative advocacy, and an annual international conference. 

FAQ

What can I do with a Master’s Degree in Counseling?

Counseling is a broad field with opportunities across all industries. Counselors with a master’s degree can work in fields involving substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health, marriage and family, schools, and rehabilitation centers.

Is a Master’s Degree in Counseling worth it?

Yes, having a master’s degree in this field can increase the available job opportunities. This difference is reflected in wages, too. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median wage for those who have a master’s degree is $47,210, but the wage estimates extended up into the $70,100 range.

What is the best degree for counseling?

Counselors must earn a four-year undergraduate degree, and typically a master’s degree, in order to begin their practice. There are many types of master’s programs available in counseling. They depend on the  desired degree—whether it’s a Master of Science, Master of Art or Educational Specialist—and specialization. 

What is the difference between a Master of Psychology and Counseling?

While the fields of psychology and counseling have a lot of overlap, they are by no means the same. One major difference is the scope of the research included in the coursework. Counseling degree programs focus on teaching students how to consume research and use that information to inform their future practice. Psychologists, on the other hand, heavily focus on research in order to complete their degree programs, and many continue on to doctoral programs in order to move forward in their chosen career path. The differences in their education allow counselors and psychologists to perform distinct functions after they graduate.

Sources:

https://www.bls.gov/ooh/

https://www.apa.org/apf/funding/barlow?tab=2

https://www.apa.org/apf/funding/franks?tab=1

https://americanaddictioncenters.org/behavioral-health-academic-scholarship

https://www.amhca.org/home

https://www.csi-net.org/

https://www.naadac.org/about

https://www.nbcc.org/

https://www.counseling.org/

https://www.ulm.edu/counseling/

https://www.harding.edu/academics/colleges-departments/education/graduate-programs/mental-health-wellness-programs/clinical-mental-health-counseling